Crushing Evil Social Cycles

PPT in association with Xavier’s Institue of Communication (XIC), Mumbai launched
the first Free Diploma Course in Photography for Children of Conservancy Workers.
The project aims to crush the decades old social cycle of these Manual
Scavangeing jobs being passed on from generation to generation.

Crushing Evil Social Cycles

Diploma in Photography for Children of Conservancy Workers

Conservancy Workers are employed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Around 40,000 of them work in the city during the early hours of the day cleaning filthy streets, gullies and gutters. They work in hell like conditions, inside sewers and in neck deep sewage. Their jobs come with no sense of Dignity or Pride and almost all of them without exception hate their jobs. Yet, these jobs have been passed down in the same families from generation to generation over the course of a century. Struck by illness, social problems and the resulting poverty, the entire community consisting mainly of Dalits – The lowest rung of the Indian Caste System has been neglected and relegated to the sidelines of the city’s civil society.
This systematic and open oppression of a “lower caste” has crippled their sense of self worth and most of them hope for a future where their children too take up the same job after they die so that they can keep the measly benefits the job provides. This has resulted in generations of their children stuck in an evil social cycle that keeps them bound to the same disgusting work. The PPT led by Photojournalist Sudharak Olwe with the support of a few conservancy workers conducted the first ever Photography Workshop for their children. This small intervention has resulted in a decade long journey which culminated with the first ever Diploma for Children of Conservancy Workers.
The PPT had been conducting workshops with the children since 2005, most of them were between the ages of 5-10 and a few older youth. The workshops were conducted by city based photographers Ravi Shekar, Atul Loke and Sudharak Olwe. These workshops conducted at the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh were not only an learning experience for the children but also for the PPT team as we learnt so much about the community and their sufferings on a deeply personal level as the children shared stories of their daily lives through the camera we had given them. This being the early 2000’s we used film cameras. The children were taken through the entire process of developing film and then were also introduced to digital cameras.
The first workshops were an attempt to give the children a look into the world of media. Fascinated by the camera and the workshops, we had a successful series of workshops resulting in increased no. Of participants after every workshop. The word had spread in the community.
In the next 10 years, PPT conducted regular workshops with the same children, inviting photographers and mentors to guide them. They were shooting pictures of the city and their lives and learning to talk about their issues.
In early 2016, The Photography Promotion Trust and Xavier’s Institute of Communication came together to collaborate on the the first ever Diploma Course in Photography for Children of Conservancy workers which would be free of cost.
About XIC: XIC as its known, is one of India’s premier Media and Film institutes with courses in film, journalism and PR and produces outstanding individuals who go onto work for major media houses and corporates. The following were the main aims of the course:
Mentorship: Invite mentors, photography professionals to give lectures to the students, introduce them to new avenues.
Resources: Give them the tools and resources needed to make photography a career. (Details Below)
Environment: Create a professional working environment and allow them to grow on their own.
Platforms: To Provide platforms for learning, creating, publishing, internships.
Above all this, the most important aspect the PPT team focused on was to make the students more confident in public speaking, sharing thoughts and ideas. Coming from a background and a community that has been for decades neglected and kept on the sidelines of mainstream jobs and careers, the students find it difficult to shed the stigma attached to the community. As the course progressed, we saw an huge improvement in the confidence of many students and how they presented their work and ideas.
An extremely evil process of job creation exists in the system of conservancy workers. When a worker dies, his next to kin -usually the wife or elder child is given the job – a so called “Pity Case”, an evil system shrouded under the cloak of well-being. The family takes up the job because they get to keep their “Kholi” – small house allotted by the government. They take it up without any objections to the prevalent issues of the job, a job which comes with a retirement date that the worker does not live to see. Over the years, this system has become the norm and most of the children in the community think of it as an inevitable part of their life. In order to break this cycle, it is imperative to introduce a contrasting view point of the world, a questioning lens and the camera works like a tool to achieve exactly that. These children have never been given or had access to the opportunities of a globalised world. That needed to be changed.
What started as a way to get children, youth and even the adults to speak up about their community issues and demand action soon turned into a model of self-development for the children. The camera in their hands was not only a tool to talk about issues, it could well be a part of their livelihood.
As part of the workshop, a one year curriculum was designed for the students along with Professor J.B Mistry of the XIC. Lectures were held every weekend and the students did assignments for the rest of the week. Every week, they were given themes to work with and the pictures reviewed at the end of it.

Me and Sudharak are friends for a quite long time now, and when he came to me to ask if XIC can provide facilities for a free course to the children of working class I went to my director and he happily agreed to that. We made it free and gave him the space because they were doing it for a good cause and I feel we all should help him with this to progress smoothly.During the course, one day I saw a picture clicked by one of the students, it was so terrifically good that I suggested that that picture should be sent to the “National Geography”. I went and personally congratulated the boy who clicked it and Sudharak knows about it. It shook me
and I felt so good that students are learning about it despite having problems with the equipments at the beginning.”

J. B Mistry

Dean – Xavier’s Institute of Communication.
The Course Material included subjects likes: Framing, Composition, Lighting, Shooting in Studio, Social Documentary Photography, Post Processing, Story-telling. Along with this the students were exposed to different kinds of photography like Fashion, Street, Macro, Commercial etc. The team along with the students also visited many galleries during the course and also conducted photo-walks for the students to get hands on location training.
To inspire and give insights in the world of media and photography, the PPT team invited professionals from various fields to talk with the students and take lectures,
When we first met them, they were very unsure about themselves and once the workshops and everything was done they became so happy and strong which exactly you need in your life. I have seen a lot of children doing good for themselves after the workshop and it’s so nice to see that. It was a great learning for me too and helped me open up. Also, we went to some places which we never thought of going and shooting.

Mexy Xavier

Photo Editor, Forbes
Many of the Youth from the community who were volunteering with us in our earlier workshops and had developed an interest in Photography had now taken up jobs as photographers in different media organisations. They attribute their success to learning with the Photography Promotion Trust and how it had given them a firm understanding of the art and its uses. Working as professionals now and having overcome many of the hurdles the students were going through now, they shared their valuable experiences with the students. As part of Team PPT, they now volunteer every Saturday to conduct photo-walks with students and engage more children and youth to take up photography.
“If I didn’t go for the course, I would have become a BMC worker like my father. Because of PPT I worked in DNA newspaper, Bollywood, Lokmat newspaper and now currently I am working in Global Vipassana Pagoda International. My ancestors decided my job as BMC worker but I chose to do something else and PPT helped me fulfill my dream.”

Atul Kasare

PPT Student
I am a BMC worker and I know Sudharak sir from a long time now. He changed my children’s life and many other people in my colony. I will be forever grateful to him. Now many children of BMC workers took up photography as a profession and are very happy with their life. After Sudharak sir’s photography people got to know that BMC workers doesn’t use hand gloves or caps and how miserable our lives are but now we have the minimum facilities. They are doing a great job and I salute them from my heart.

Sunil Kasare

PPT Volunteer, BMC Worker
“Photography was something we never though of doing in our wildest lives because of our family background but the free course by PPT changed our entire life. It enabled us to choose something we like and also I believe they changed the lives of our next generation also.”

Rupali Jadhav

PPT Student
Mexican Ambassador to India Melba Pria visits PPT Students Exhibition.
Mexican Ambassador to India Melba Pria with PPT Students.
“I met Sudharak sir and was a part of PPT from 2006. It changed everything for me, from learning to present myself in front of people to talking in English and also about photography of course. After that when I started mentoring people who belong to the poor families, who had hundreds of problems in their lives, it was a very nice experience and now when I see those students becoming a photographer, freelancer basically standing on their own feet that’s something I cannot express.”

Swapnil Sakhare

Chief Photographer – Lokmat Group / PPT Mentor
Whatever PPT is doing is doing is for a good cause with a good intention. It has changed me as a person and also a lot of kids who could never afford learning photography. It is a great feeling to see the students whom you mentored doing so well in life right now.”

Deepak Turbhekar

Photographer – Times of India / PPT Mentor
The Diploma Course was one of the PPT’s most engaging projects which led to 9 of 17 Diploma Students to take up Photography as a career and the rest working in various capacities in the media field. Many of them now work in many leading organisations and newspapers, have exhibited their work in galleries, and also received scholarships. As part of their course, the students also shot, edited and mounted an entire exhibition at Jehnagir Art Gallery called the “Blue Icon”.

The Blue Icon

Exploring Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s iconography in contemporary Mumbai as the Blue Icon, an exhibition of Photos by Students of the Photography Promotion Trust.

PPT Students from the Diploma Course now work in various photography fields like Fashion, Press, Entertainment, Wedding. Displayed below is some of their work

Intervention through Photography workshops and creating a dialogue in communities is one of the main focus points of the PPT’s work with students in such areas. In the decade long project with the children of the conservancy workers, we came across many issues which were addressed and conversations that wouldn’t normally happen were possible only due to the camera. The camera has become more than a tool for interaction, for the conservancy workers it has become a tool to actively change their own lives. We at the PPT hope we can continue this model and see it create more success stories and drive more engagement on a local level.

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